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article imageOp-Ed: AmazonPrime series brings 19th Century writer back to spotlight Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 5, 2016 in Entertainment
Even if few in the U.S. have ever heard of 19th Century author Anthony Trollope, producer/director Julian Fellowes recognizes literary gold when he sees it. He is the producer behind AmazonPrime's series "Doctor Thorne."
In fact, the full title of the new BritishTV-type of series is: "Julian Fellowes presents Doctor Thorne." This is something that the New York Times in its initial review made clear to its readers, just to emphasize that Fellowes is a creative force to be reckoned with.
Fellowes wastes little time in resting on the laurels of his immense success with "Downton Abbey." He has now put a seldom-highlighted 19th Century writer on the literary map of the American consciousness. Trollope, as he explained in the opening sequence of the first episode of season 1 for "Dr. Thorne," was alongside the greats of his time, like Thackeray and Dickens. But Trollope fell into obscurity. Fellowes believes Trollope deserves to be restored to that rightful place once again. And what an outstanding job Fellowes has done to bring Trollope's works to light for American TV viewers.
"One of the reasons that Trollope remains relevant today is that he tends to write ‘novels of domestic politics’ rather than 'novels of domestic manners’," says Michael Williamson, the current Chairman of the Trollope Society in London which just celebrated the author's 200th birthday last year. Taking the time to call this reporter by phone from the United Kingdom, he said, "we are very pleased with the series." Williamson commented further on the works of Trollope, especially novels like 'Doctor Thorne.' "They tend not to date although obviously the characters may be wearing crinolines or top hats. Much of Trollopes' success relies on the strength and reality of his characterisations. They develop in a well rounded way and you can easily identify with them as people with similar characteristics today."
Produced in the high quality and visually stunning sets and consumes "Downton Abbey" fans have come to expect, Fellowes does not disappoint. Rather he reaffirms and enhances his abilities even further. When "Dr. Thorne" debuted on AmazonPrime this past May, New York Times critic Mike Hale noted that "Mr. Fellowes packs a lot of charm and amusement into the 160 minutes" (of the entire length of the series for its first season).
Hale also pointed out that just for AmazonPrime, Fellowes narrates the beginning of each episode. Something reminiscent of the venerable Alistair Cooke, who helped make Masterpiece Theater on American Public Television a viewing staple. These brief and personable introductions were not part of the original broadcasts on ITV in the UK — ITV by the way, is one of the network competitors to the familiar BBC network. It is sort of Britain's version of our PBS here in the States.
Naturally, this effort by Fellowes stirred my interest and so I went to the local library to find something of Trollope on the shelves. Well, sorry to say, it had to be ordered from another library within the California Public Library system. What turned up was a hardback of Trollope's Barchester Towers — The Warden from 1936, published by Random House. It was tattered but still in decent condition. And, something old has been discovered new again, at least for this reporter.
The inspiration for producer Julian Fellowes   Dr. Thorne  series comes from 19th Century author Ant...
The inspiration for producer Julian Fellowes' "Dr. Thorne" series comes from 19th Century author Anthony Trollope. Part of a larger collection of works such as "Barchester Towers."
The one striking thing about this little gem of a series that I noticed was how much Trollope (at least from the way the script has been put together) is a lot like Dickens. Fellowes also mentions Jane Austin as another comparison — for, as is true of a lot of Dickens as well, much of "Dr. Thorne" concerns itself with the propriety of marriage and what fate will befall the woman who ends up marrying beneath her station in life. The stratified/layered cultural richness in Trollope is there as is the family-emotional intrigue which is familiar to most Americans who are fans of Dickens, Austin and Thackeray.
At first glance with all his success, Fellowes is perhaps a unique British version of what we here in the U.S. refer to as a "movie mogul." But, underneath the Alistar Cooke-like demeanor is a man of considerable talents, who has worked his way to the pinnacle on which he now stands. His work includes that of actor, director, screen-writer and novelist. No doubt with all the work he has accomplished in the past 35 years, Fellowes knows his craft.
Happy that Trollope has gained an audience in the States, Williamson pointed out, "Trollope enthusiasts (here in the U.K) quibbled quite a lot, mainly because of the reduction of the story and number of characters cut but, of course, this is generally the case with the dramatization of the classics."
The material Fellowes has chosen for the viewing public is a mere fraction of the vast amount of literary material produced by a seemingly ordinary man. Trollope to the general public eye, for all his prolific output was in everyday life, just a post office clerk. Still, like Dickens he knew a similar kind of suffering. According to the Trollope Society of the UK, Anthony Trollope was born in 1815 into a family with connections to the gentry, but without the means to maintain their position. Trollope’s childhood was one of unhappiness and uncertainty. Yet, like Dickens he was among the most traveled people of his day. Trollope traveled on foot, noted Williamson, on horseback, by rail and ship. As travel became easier (in the 19th Century) he travelled further, visiting Australia, America, Ceylon, and South Africa. Some of these journeys were connected with his early career in the Post Office. "In all his travels he wrote on the move," Williamson said. "Eventually, having made his name in writing, he was able to take early retirement from the Post Office."
Some of the themes Trollope writes of were common to 19th Century people, especially British people; with all the worry about one's status, station and purpose in life. The contrast between that and our current time-frame here in the U.S. is very thought-provoking. No doubt, like Fellowes' other productions, "Downton Abbey" and "Gosford Park" the look back makes us realize just how much society has changed.
Fellowes pointed out in his brief introductions before each episode that Trollope accomplished a great deal as a writer in his lifetime. The Trollope Society in London tallies at least 47 novels, among the other forms of writing Trollope did. While Trollope competes very well with Dickens, as Fellowes mentioned, Trollope seldom presents a character as an "archetype" like in a Dickens novel. Trollope shows a more well-rounded person, and while they might portray the traits of a villain or a saint, their other sides and human qualities show forth. Williamson agreed as he added, Trollope generally had three or four books on the go at the same time and was very prolific over roughly only 35 years of his life." To learn more about 19th Century author and literary rival-contemporary of Charles Dickens visit The Trollope Society of the U.K. website.
And, to catch a previous episode of "Julian Fellowes Presents Doctor Thorne" from the first season check it out on AmazonPrime.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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